Friday, February 27, 2009

Brown vs. Board of Education

I'm a new member of Netflix -- part of the "benefit" of having an eye injury that prevents exercise -- and one of the fun parts about it is that there are videos on demand.

So the other day, I was looking through the sports selections and saw a video of the 1966 NCAA basketball final between Texas Western and Kentucky. This might be the most famous final in history. It matched the all-black Texas Western team against the all-white Kentucky team. It's been called the Brown vs. Board of Education case of college basketball. I quickly called it up.

The interesting part came in the presentation. There was one camera shooting the game, taking from not quite half-court. There were close-ups in certain situations, like foul shots. No graphics were visible. Then, the Kentucky radio play-by-play was dropped over the video. Presto, it was sort of like television. And no Hollywood tricks were added here, like in "Glory Road."

The game itself was pretty straight-forward. Texas Western looked like the better team, and constantly applies pressure to move a bit ahead. The Miners also were very good from the free throw line. I hate to use the old cliche "more athletic," but Texas Western did look quicker outside and more impressive under the boards. Pat Riley had a nice game for Kentucky, while I can see why I related as a 10-year-old to Riley's teammate Louie Dampier, who was a great standstill shooter but who couldn't generate many shots on his own. My kind of player.

Here's a YouTube clip of three minutes of the game, with minimal commentary:

What was very interesting, though, was the sound. In that situation, I'm obviously listening for signs of racism at the time. Interestingly enough, there were only a couple of incidents along those lines, and those could have been interpreted in more than one way.

For example, before the game the announcer said that everyone figured Kentucky had far too much talent for Texas Western to keep up. It sounded to me like basic "homer" announcing, and even so that might have been the convention wisdom before the game. The announcer also had trouble identifying the Texas Western players at the start, but this may have been simply a lack of homework.

At the end of the game, when Texas Western was in charge, the announcer commented that while Texas Western hadn't played with much discipline on offense, it did enough to win the game. This certainly could be interpreted as something along the lines of Texas Western doesn't play team basketball (playing more of an "urban" style -- draw your own conclusions) while Kentucky does. And in the final minute there was a suprising amoung of booing on the soundtrack. Was that due to the fact that the Kentucky announcer was near the Kentucky section, which was upset about the game? Or is there some racism involved? Hard to tell from this 2009 perspective.

Basketball has come a long way since 1966, based on the video. And so have we.

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